Mold and mold spores are ubiquitous in the natural world. Mold detection in the home should not focus on identifying the presence of tiny trace numbers of mold spores because there are mold spores everywhere. Home mold detection should focus on identifying areas where mold has been able to form colonies and begin to grow. The presence of such active colonies can be determined by the telltale smells and colors of molds; by a careful search for water and water damage, which allow mold colonies to grow; and in certain circumstances, by the use of mold test kits or laboratory analysis.
The very simplest method of mold detection relies on the distinctive smell of mold and on the discoloration that it causes as it grows. If a room smells moist, musty, or earthy, it is worth searching it for signs of mold. Molds can grow in a wide variety of colors, including red, white, gray, and black. Discolored patches that smell of mold should generally be considered to be mold. If mold is growing in the walls, attic, or ventilation system, the smell of mold may not be localized to the area of mold infestation.
Mold spores are present in every home, but active growing colonies of mold are not. This is because mold requires both an organic food supply, such as wood or paper, and a great deal of moisture in order to thrive. In a well-maintained home, there is never enough excess moisture to allow mold to grow. Looking for water and water damage is, therefore, a good method of mold detection.
Areas of a home that are prone to moisture should always be investigated during mold detection efforts. Bathrooms, especially bathrooms without adequate ventilation, often harbor mold. The spaces below sinks and dishwashers are prone to mold growth as well. Areas where roofs have slowly leaked can lead to the growth of mold in attics, and this should be investigated, especially if a home’s roof is older or in poor condition.
Basements are especially prone to mold infestation. Exposed pipes in basements can produce condensation, which can harbor mold. Basement walls may leak or seep, and this provides an excellent breeding ground for mold. Basement flooding can also lead to the saturation of walls and carpets, and any basement that shows signs of flood damage should be checked carefully for signs of mold, as the two often go hand-in-hand.
Kits and laboratories offer tests to determine whether a sample does or does not contain mold. These methods of mold detection are accurate but not always helpful. Since mold spores are present in every home, these tests may return positive results even in the absence of a true mold problem.